Dismantling Boundaries by Utilizing the Cyborg Body

Donna Haraway in “A Cyborg Manifesto…” advocates going beyond the Marxist/feminist activist plot to re-inscribing history with women’s shared experience to embrace the biotechnical and adopt cybernetic organisms and bionic extensions as parts of the self.

“The international women’s movements have constructed ‘women’s experience,’ as well as uncovered or discovered this crucial collective object.” (Haraway 149).

She argues that this approach to reordering the social structure would be more effective to obtain the goals of Marxism/feminism because by adding onto the natural elements of the body with biotechnology and cybernetic parts—“cybernetic organisms”—individuals can effectively disrupt the codifying of the body with titles, power, order and connotation-infused binary opposites, which would force all active users to embrace/become “Other”-ized. “The cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world; it has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labor, or other seductions to organic wholeness…” (Haraway 150).

Haraway in “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” acknowledges the historical offerings of Socialist and feminist activist writers, critics, theorists, thinkers and poets. She mentions the power of re-inscribing a title upon oneself, that is, taking on the ownership of a name as is discussed in Audre Lorde’s “biomythography” Zami (A New Spelling of My Name) a story in which a woman tells of her coming of age and empowerment in naming herself. (Haraway 174). The act of renaming is often discussed in feminist texts as empowering because it removes power from the act of a name being applied to a body and places the power in the hands of the individual to name herself. In this way, the original use of power in wielding a name for a young girl is subverted and reassigned.

In the same way that naming one’s self is an act of subverting the power of a dominant paradigm (in this case one’s parents or caregivers), so is the process of embracing a cyborg body—one that is not male or female, black or white, dominant or submissive—but a non-organic life force which has no mother or father and cannot eb easily placed into one division or another of these binary opposite positions. Haraway argues that only when we begin to consider ourselves and other people in this fragmented, non-codified state (as Other) can true equality be obtained. The playing ground would be leveled and the drawing board of history, so long marked up only by those who wielded power, wealth, influence, maleness, privilege, etc. can finally be wiped clean and a new history can be written. “But there are great riches for feminists in explicitly embracing the possibilities inherent in the breakdown of clean distinctions between the organism and the machine and similar distinctions structuring the Western self,” she says (174).

Haraway also acknowledges the socio/poetic work of Adrienne Rich, a lesbian activist poet whose collection “Dream of a Common Language” is cherished by feminist circles for its incitement to embrace a collective “women’s experience”—a return to Gaea, as Haraway names Mother Earth—and the embrace of all things female including reproduction, menstruation, creation, nurturing/feeding, etc. (imagine Eve formed from Adam’s rib and dirt). But Haraway wants to go beyond the rediscovery of the Goddess myth often advocated by late Second Wave/early Third Wave feminists and extend definitions into cyberspace—to take a step into the unknown, technological, disembodied and “unsex”-ed realm of the cyborg. Here we would all find the fatherless reinvention of language. Being stripped of all of our codified, weighted terms, we would have to invent a new language—a common language—which would put everyone on equal ground in considering their genderless, sex-less, raceless posturing as cyborgs—only part human but also part machine.

While Haraway’s concluding statements lean a little far in the direction of anarcho-feminist incitement to take down all the institutions, dismantle all traditions and rewrite history [“…Cyborg imagery can suggest way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves. This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia. It is an imagination of a feminist speaking in tongues to strike fear into the circuits of the super-savers of the new right…” (Haraway 181). ]this remains a groundbreaking, critical texts that challenges so many areas of philosophy with nuances into sociology, sexual identity, feminism, Marxism, biotechnology, and other fields of theory that even though it is more than 20 years old it is still widely read and many of the concepts are still very relevant and timely.

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4 Responses to “Dismantling Boundaries by Utilizing the Cyborg Body”

  1. Yeah, I agree that they are relevant and timely, because there are still lots of postmodernists running around destructuring people’s pleasure. And yeah, I know that poststructutralism is popular at the New School, but I’m tired of it ruining my appreciateion of life and my sexuality. — P

  2. Yeah, I agree with the fact that Harway feels that the cyborg myth has the potential for radical political action as it frees feminists from a desperate search for similarity with one another, since physical/epistemological boundary breaks can be extrapolated to political boundary crossings.

  3. christinatx Says:

    I do agree that this text is relevant, but I’m not sure about timely. For me, I have difficulty reading texts where opinions are aggressively displayed. Overall, I also agree that seeking the cybrog myth may lead to political action (though I’m not sure about radical political action).

  4. christinatx Says:

    Oh, also to clarify I was refering to Haraway’s text (not your post :)) when I said that I have difficulty reading texts with aggressive opinions. I just didn’t want you to think that I was refering to you. 🙂

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